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A tipping point for Islamaphobia?

Tyler Ray,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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August 2, 2012

Have we finally reached an end to widespread Islamaphobia and religious discrimination in this country? Maybe not—but we may be reaching a turning point where bigotry becomes so blatant that it requires a response from across the political and ideological spectrum. Take for instance the recent letters sent by Rep. Michelle Bachmann and four other members of Congress to several government agencies seeking investigations of prominent American Muslim individuals and organizations, because of alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Among the most recognizable of those targeted was Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin. These unfounded accusations, based on claims made by an anti-Muslim organization, call the loyalty of these individuals and organizations into question solely because of religious affiliation. Bachmann and her colleagues’ actions faced widespread rebuke for their dangerous and damaging accusations, which offend our country’s foundational religious freedom. Although these kinds of attacks are, of course, discouraging, it is encouraging that there was such a swift and far-reaching condemnation.

Sen. John McCain spoke on the Senate Floor last week of the impact that these kinds of action have on the future of our country:

Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our Constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

Following in the footsteps of Sen. McCain, Sens. Marco Rubio and Scott Brown, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jeff Flake, Keith Ellison, Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger all have spoken up for the very best of American values. They have repudiated the attacks for what they are—attacks based on nothing more than fear, ignorance, and prejudice. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano also criticized the allegations against individuals serving their respective agencies. It takes courage to stand up to prejudice and we are proud of those leaders who have done so.

It is important to speak out when incidents like these occur, which threaten our values and target individuals simply based on their religious beliefs. The ACLU joined a diverse coalition of 41 other religious, secular, interfaith, advocacy, legal and community organizations to send a letter to Rep. Bachmann and her colleagues. Though groups in the coalition don’t agree on everything, we all agree that every American has the freedom to practice—or choose not to practice—a religion without fear of criticism or suspicion.

There are still those who support attacks like these. But let’s hope we really have reached the tipping point.

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